“You don’t tell them you cried. You don’t tell them you broke down. You tell them you listened and stood like a man. A man,” she whispered into her son’s ear, hugging him vehemently. She pushed him away, urging him to run then she leapt and the train smashed her brains on the railway at the end of the world. It was her last day as a mother and these were her last words to him. It was her last day as a mother, a woman; a man. Her splattered brains were all over the railway track and her son was running away and could only glimpse at his mother’s ever shining eyes; hugging him, and all he could hear was the echo of her last word. Man.
They wanted to sleep but he wasn’t back yet and no sleep was possible till he came back. So they waited for Justice. They waited for days but no one came. On the sixteenth day, they kicked the empty bucket in unison for no more water was to be found in the never ending rivers of the lands. On the seventeenth day, at dawn, he reached the bleak house, but all he could see was the solemn silence of eight corpses lying hand in hand in the yellow field in front of the bleak house. He collapsed on the ground, gasping for air, grasping for life. His hands were trembling epileptically and his eyes leaping from their sockets imploringly. The early sunlight was dead and the morning breeze sliced his breath. He fell asleep, hysterically peaceful, and it was the only time he didn’t dream and the last time he could.
Twenty seven days ago the world had been very different. It was not better or any more hopeful but they were alive. The gods had been kind enough to bestow and sustain the blessing of life upon them, twenty seven days ago. She had just been released from the mental ward. Her three sisters, elder brother, senile mother, and only son were waiting for her at the gate. She was exhausted and her eyes were circled with dark shadows of insomnia and despair. They walked back home to the bleak house. The windows have been closed shut for weeks and the air inside longed for a taste of the sun. The family longed for a taste of the past. She longed for nothing. She could no longer long for anything.
They were five and she was one. She was a woman and they were none. But they grabbed at her red dress and raped her with their piercing eyes. She tried to run but her heel broke and there was no way out. She passed out in the street, surrounded by five strangers, surrounded by the deadliest of nights. They didn’t carry her away. No one was to be found at this hour. They robbed her body of any remaining bliss and left her sleeping mind demented. She could no longer dream of anything.
She walked slowly into the bleak house she’s been away from for the past six months. Six excruciating months in a lifeless mental ward where only the screeches of the insane, between the infinite cells, could be heard. She headed directly for the bathroom and locked the door. The big mirror covering most of the third wall on the left was still broken; they had not fixed it still. She looked at herself. She stared at her face and gazed at her eyes, in her eyes. Her eyes were unusually still, her eyelids frozen, her pupils screaming. She kept searching for herself but could barely find anything of it. She merely recognized her shaved eyebrows, or at least where they had been. She caressed her bald head and closed her eyes shut. She still remembered every single detail about that night. Their eyes. Her red dress. Their hands. Her heel. Yet she still couldn’t dream.
Her son waited for her outside the bathroom. He used to do so before she went away and every time she opened the door she’d gasp surprisingly when she saw him there. He waited. She opened the door. He smiled waiting for her gasp. She walked by him, expressionless. He knew she would never dream again.
She walked into the kitchen and found her brother’s wife inside, smoking. The wife threw the cigarette into the sink once she saw her and left quickly. Someone was knocking on the door. The wife opened the door and three men entered. She hugged the last one and whispered into his ear. He suddenly headed for the kitchen, leaving the other two men with her. The brother walked into the kitchen and found her staring at the dusty floor. He approached but she impulsively moved away, staring. He left her alone.
She later knew that the two other men were her sisters’ husbands. They had married while she was away, except for the youngest who became more reclusive after what had happened. They needed a source of income and marriage offered the best solution especially for the older sisters as they approached their early thirties. For a long time, she stayed in that kitchen staring. A few hours later, her mother came in and sat beside her, leaning on the creaking fridge. Her mother was very old and could no longer provide maternal solace for her own daughter. The son sometimes thought his grandmother was “too cold” and wondered how his mother had her for a mother, but he never talked about it with anyone. Not even with his mother.
By midnight everyone was asleep, even her own son tried to stay up late to watch over his mother but eventually fell asleep on her lap. She was still in the kitchen, breathing silently and reminiscing. The memory of what had happened, vivid as ever, was agonizing; a malignant tumor and there was no cure.
It was a Friday night and she had just finished her shift at the night club. She wasn’t particularly fond of her job as a waitress but it paid well and was enough to sustain life for her mother and son. She was heading to the changing room when the phone in the club’s reception rang. She was the only one still there. She ran to the reception and picked up immediately, anxiously; feeling the call was for her. She heard her mother’s low voice as she narrated how he was asking her for “some bottle” from the kitchen when he suddenly fell and started trembling. She hung up, grabbed her bag, and ran out frantically heading home, she would’ve arrived if it wasn’t for them. The five men. She might have escaped their ferocious quarantine if it wasn’t for her broken heel. But on that night, at one in the morning, five men, intoxicated by their repulsive minds and their sickening selves, were passing by the night club when her heel broke. She did not escape. Her son experienced a one minute seizure. Both were helpless.
She woke up the next morning in the street, lying in front of the night club, her arms and legs outstretched in her dilapidated red dress, no longer as red, no longer as elegant. Her dress was bedraggled with mud, her face with misery. Her mind was rummaging for explanations. Her body was writhing in pain. And her soul was decaying. She couldn’t stand up at first, her legs felt numb, but after moments she leaned on a red car nearby and helped herself up. Limping back home with smeared black mascara, she reached the bleak house soaked in enraged humiliation.
Her brother woke her up and told her to go sleep in her bedroom. He carried her son off her lap and placed him on a decrepit sofa. She stood up and realized she had fallen asleep in the kitchen. He was waiting for her to go to bed but she opened the fridge, staring for a few moments into its emptiness; her emptiness, then closed it and went to bed. He understood her behavior and knew she had drunk too much from the poisoned river of life. It was almost dawn. He awoke his sisters’ husbands and they all went to work. They all worked at a deserted construction site, moving rocks and making cement. They finished work in the late afternoon, and went back to their wives, back to a house as fragile as her sanity, whatever remained of it.
That day, they came back and found their wives and the rest of the family sitting all together in the middle of the field. Even she was sitting amongst them. Her brother felt she was finally assimilating back into the family. That day the three men didn’t enter the house for their daily baths; instead they sat outside in the field, feeling she was different today, maybe even awake. That day a sudden loud siren was approaching, its stench permeating the atmosphere; it was a police vehicle chasing two speeding red cars. The police vehicle soon disappeared out of sight but something of its putridity clinged onto the air molecules surrounding the family. That day she spoke for the first time since her release, she uttered a single word.
They all turned around and looked at her in an overwhelming confusion, except her mother and her son, the former was still looking where the police vehicle had been, expecting a surprising return and the latter gasped because his mother had told him before that he should never say the b-word. No one spoke. No one questioned. Even her curious brother didn’t ask who exactly she was talking about. Her youngest sister stood up and headed to the bleak house, leaving the family out in the field in silence and bafflement. Soon the rest of the family left and she was all alone again, all by herself in the field, feeling the dry soil beneath and staring at a crawling ant as it tunneled through with her dancing legs. She envied the ant for her strength to wander on through the wilderness and still dance. She remembered when she used to dance with the world carelessly, fearlessly.
When she opened the door, she found her son lying on a decrepit sofa, still asleep, his legs curled close to his chest. Her mother was in the bathroom. She went into her bedroom and locked its door. She collapsed instantly on the floor and kept crying till her eyes grew red and her breaths breaking. But soon she stood up and decided to get those bastards. She undressed, throwing her dirty red dress aside. Her naked body howled in excruciating distress. She could now see dark blue bruises all over her body where they’ve kicked when she resisted. She was about to cry again but pushed them away from her mind transiently. She dressed quickly, putting on a plain black dress with a long golden zipper on the back and matching black heels. She headed to the kitchen carrying her red dress on her arm. She found the box of matches and left. Behind the bleak house there was a garbage dump, she threw in her dress and set it on fire. She stood there waiting, watching it crumple away into ashes until it was gone. She wished she could set her memory on fire. She went back in the house to check on her son, woke him up to give him the first dose of his medicine, and then sang him to sleep again. Her mother was still in the bathroom, she was worried so she knocked on the door and her mother opened immediately. She had showered with her clothes on. She walked out of the bathroom, dripping. She couldn’t help her mother since her father died in his sleep the past year, so she let her go. She left the bleak house and headed for the police station. She used to pass by that station every day on her way to work, always dark, even the lamp post standing by the station’s entrance was always out. She didn’t care then but now she had to. She walked in assured strides, hiding all the pain beneath. The police station was dark and almost deserted but the daylight enabled her to spot an officer slacking on a wooden chair in the entrance. She approached him and his features became clearer and almost familiar. He had a scar below his right eye that stretched over his cheek till his lower lip. She stood there transfixed, staring at his scar, until she realized that he was moving his lips and his voice faded into her auditory medium. She suddenly retreated as if attacked but soon started recounting her incident, requesting his help. After she was done, he stood up and walked slowly back and forth then sat back down. And smirked. She smiled, not understanding, not knowing.
“Was anyone else there besides them?”
“No, it was late at night and I fell. I couldn’t see except shadows and hands.”
“So no one witnessed this incident?”
“Maybe someone was walking..”
“No one walks that late. Did you see any of their faces? Would you be able to recognize any of them?”
“There was one who grabbed the back of my red dress, he was not wearing glasses and didn’t have a beard and..”
“Then what was he wearing?”
“I don’t remember. As I told you, it was dark and they pushed me down and I soon passed out. I don’t remember.”
“No one was there and you don’t remember. Good. Where is that red dress of yours that you were wearing?”
“I..burnt it. I can show you the remaining ashes in the garbage dump by my house.”
“Yes, I burnt it all.”
“So I can’t see it anymore?”
“Except for the ashes, no you can’t.”
“No problem! For now, you can go home and I will go back to my chair. Good day.”
“I can’t help you. With no witnesses, no memory of the offenders, no evidence, your story is nothing but a bad dream. We all have them, it’s okay, you just go back home and sleep it off.”
“Hey! This is no dream! Your duty is to help me! And I have evidence! I am the evidence!”
He was beginning to be pissed off by her. She was already pissed off two minutes ago.
“Oh, so you’re the evidence? Well excuse me for not being stupid enough to fall for your stupid story!”
“I can show you the bruises! They kept kicking and hitting me! I can show you!”
He was enjoying this. He was not pissed off anymore. This was a good morning to break the monotonous routine he had been enduring for the past eternity. Sitting there in that dark office, smoking his cigarettes, listening to the creaking fan as it moved the hot air in the room futilely. This was free entertainment. Free live entertainment.
“Take me to the nurse then, she’ll document my injuries and you’ll get your evidence!”
“I document. Show me.”
He stood up, face to face with her. She was motionless, staring into his eyes, studying his scar. She was motionless but unwavering; in her stance were the deafening squeals of the helpless who had finally found their savior. She was motionless. Indomitable.
But his audacity was resolute beyond the realm of sound; no squeals are heard in his mind. He repeated “show me” as he reached for her back zipper, slowly pulling it down.
She remembered when she used to dance with the world carelessly, fearlessly. She danced. Dance..
It was halfway down and her bruised back was gradually uncovering, trembling.
She gripped his arm and twisted it inwards, rescuing her fleshly secret from escaping. As he shrieked in anguish, she was about to slap his face when he unclasped her hand from his arm and pushed her to the back wall. With her zipper still halfway open, her back felt the atoms of the cold wall creep up her spine. He was coming closer. She fought on, this time successfully slapping his left cheek. It was the first time he heard a sound, the notion of such a vibrant creation invaded his mind hungrily. He was stunned. She was trying to escape his fixated hands squeezing her shoulders but squirmed uselessly. He was attempting to get hold of the zipper while controlling her raging body when he felt an unimaginable pang of piercing pain. She had kicked him where it hurts. He retreated, overwhelmed by the explosive agony, releasing her from his hands. As he fell on the floor in front of her feet, he seized her shoes with both of his clawing hands in an attempt to bring her down but she took them off, leaving him with a pair of heels, unbroken. She no longer needed her heels. She ran away and as she turned back to look at him, he was back in his chair. Her heels gone out of sight.
She took a last glance at the dancing ant then left the field. When she entered the bleak house, her brother was waiting for her on a decrepit sofa. He asked her if she was alright. She nodded. He wanted to talk to her.
“What happened that night? It’s been months. We’re your family, why can’t you trust us? What happened that night? What happened?”
Not a single family member had known about that night. Even when she was admitted into the mental ward, all what the chief psychiatrist informed them of was her ‘mental instability and paranoia’. All visits were prohibited. She maintained her silence since her release and refused to unleash the memory from the lamp of her mind. She nodded again and left him sitting alone as she walked to her bedroom and closed the door shut behind her. Her son was sitting inside trying to make the bed. As he fixed one end of the blanket the other end creased again and he kept going back and forth but to no avail. She sat down on the creased end and he suddenly stood still. She looked at him, pondering. Then all of a sudden she opened the wardrobe, took out a huge black bag and started packing, stuffing the bag with her clothes and his. She told him to dress because they were ‘going out’. He did. She then opened the door stealthily and tiptoed to see if anyone was sitting on the decrepit sofa. No one was there. She checked the kitchen, her mother was there preparing her daily afternoon meal. She could hear her brother quarreling with his wife in the next room but their door was shut as usual. As for her sisters, they were in the nearby bedroom, the older two standing with their husbands looking out the window and the youngest reading herself into a new stolen novel. The youngest sister had nagged her brother for money to buy books but he always refused saying that ‘they can’t afford books and shit’. But her love for the fictitious lives of strangers was beyond these damp slips of paper called money. So she started stealing books from the public library, and as it was always deserted except for the sixty year old librarian who could barely see the computer screen, she plunged into the world of literature freely.
She held her son’s arm with her left hand and with her right carried the heavy black bag. She glanced at the windows of the bleak house. They were hugging the house fervently; stifling the people inside. They reminded her of the windows from the mental ward. They reminded her of her days there when she crawled in her white bed, crying all night and stopping after her cell mate beated her almost to death. Her cell mate was a mighty woman with red hair and big hips. She remembered…
She arrived home barefoot with splashes of mud over her legs and feet. She went directly to the bathroom and showered. She rubbed his memory off her body but his breath clinged on. His eyes were tormenting her memory again and again when suddenly she remembered his scar. She knew there was something strange about that scar. It was the same scar from the dark face. It was the same scar from the shadows. The same scar from that night. It was him! He was one of the five. It all began to flow back into her. The few moments of hypnagogia were the key. Before slipping into unconsciousness she had glimpsed a face, although veiled by the darkness, the moon was awake and it shone against the face, illuminating its scar. She was certain. It was no ‘bad dream’. It was real. It was him. That bastard.
She was putting on the bath robe when she heard noise outside. She quickly dried her hair and unlocked the bathroom door. It was her brother arguing with a stranger. As she approached them, her brother pushed her back and told her to go inside. She was turning away when she heard her name. She stood still, listening. Her brother was urging her to leave when the stranger grabbed her by the arms and pulled her outside the bleak house. She screamed and resisted but soon she was outside the mental ward being instructed to her new bleak house with a red headed lioness welcoming her. During her weekly meetings with the psychiatrist, she finally knew that the reason behind her arrest was ‘attacking a police officer violently thus showing signs of mental instability and paranoia’. She saw no relationship whatsoever between attacking someone and mental stability but it wasn’t someone. It was him. That bastard.
Still holding her son’s arm, she turned away from the bleak house and ran away. They escaped. The bleak house was no longer her home, it never was. They walked on. She didn’t know, he didn’t understand. They both traveled on, lost in the world; of peaceful oblivion.
Soon he got exhausted and could no longer walk. She carried him and dragged the black bag behind, erasing the traces of her footsteps in the dusty alleys. For days and days, she walked stopping at different kiosks to buy snacks for her son. She never got hungry. Only paler as all the life slowly diffused out of her into the earth below. They slept in public parks and on filthy pavements. She, always hugging her son within her, never really slept. Only dozed off into her memories of the red dress and the broken heel and the golden zipper.
Ten days passed caressing her bald head in the wind and tickling his bare feet in the night. They reached a deserted railway station. When she walked into the place she felt its holiness descend into her inexplicably. She had this sensation that it was more than a place. It felt like a light wave traveling onwards eternally. It was beautiful.
She never believed in the afterlife. But now she knew she was wrong. It was beautiful breathing light and thinking music while dancing carelessly in the air. She flew gracefully watching the infinity of stardom in the eternity of the universe. She thought she had danced before, but in truth she was just learning to dance. She had never been. She was born right now. She was giving birth right now. She was, but forever. She..
She woke up aghast. It was a nightmare. But gradually she realized what had happened. She had just awoken from a dream. She was dreaming again. It was more than a place. Certainly. The dream however was petrifying. It was dawn and she was kneeling till her back broke. The strange thing was that she actually woke up with an unusual back pain as if the red dye of dream drifted into the seams of reality infecting it colorfully. She walked outside the station and witnessed the most captivating sun rise. It all made sense. This was it. It was not a railway station, it was not a place. It was home.
But the dream was a message from another world. She knew it. She went back to her sleeping son and woke him up gently. He awakened like an angel, stretching his arms slowly like an angel, smiling beatifically.
“Good morning, mommy.”
“Good morning, my angel.”
“My angel? I’m not an angel, mommy. I’m a boy.”
“No you’re not. You’re a man.”
“Yes. You are a man. I woke you up early to surprise you. Yesterday you were a boy. Today you are a man. And now you have to pay attention to what mommy will tell you, okay?”
He looked confused but nodded anyways. It was the first time he’d seen his mother smile since her return from the mental ward. He was happy.
“I want you to go back home. You need to go back and stay with your grandmother.”
“What? But home is so far away. I can’t see it from here. How do I go back now?”
“I know it’s far away but you have to go. Ask people. Discover the paths. Explore what’s out there.”
“I don’t understand, mommy. Why can’t I just stay here with you? Don’t you love me?”
“Of course I love you!”
“Then why do you want me to leave? This place is scary and dark. You can’t be here alone. Come with me and show me the way back home.”
“I can’t. Mommy needs to stay here.”
“I can’t tell you why..it’s a big surprise. I’m preparing a big surprise for you so you need to be at home until I’m done with the surprise.”
“It’s okay, mommy, I can close my eyes and when you’re finished I will open them.”
“It won’t work. The surprise will take more than one hour.”
“More than one whole hour?”
“Yes, I’m making it very special for you.”
“Okay. But I don’t know if I will get home quickly. I can get lost.”
“Don’t worry, you’ll always find your way.”
“Do I go now?”
“No, I have to tell you one more thing.”
“Is it hard like the first thing?”
“No, it’s very easy. All you have to do is that when you get home tell your uncle something.”
“What is it?”
She started perspiring and her heart beats were audible in her mind, flooding.
“When you get home tell your uncle: mommy was raped that night.”
“Raped? What does this word mean?”
“It’s a very hard word for you. But your uncle will understand.”
“Is it a bad word? Like the b-word?”
“No, no, it’s not a bad word. Mommy would never say a bad word.”
They both knew that she did. But he smiled as if he had forgotten.
“Now you must go.”
“But, mommy..I don’t want to go. I don’t want to leave you alone.”
He started crying.
“No, don’t cry. It’s okay. I’ll finish the surprise quickly and will be home quickly. Don’t cry.”
She hugged him and was about to start crying herself but held the tears back.
He wiped his tears and blew his nose in a used tissue his mother gave him.
“You don’t tell them you cried. You don’t tell them you broke down. You tell them you listened and stood like a man. A man,” she whispered into his ear, hugging him again.
“Now go, Justice! Go!” She pushed him away, urging him to run then she leapt and the train smashed her brains on the railway at the end of the world. It was her last day as a mother and these were her last words to him. It was her last day as a mother, a woman; a man. Her splattered brains were all over the railway track and her son was running away and could only glimpse his mother’s ever shining eyes; hugging him, and all he could hear was the echo of her last word. Man.
She is dancing.